What About the Computer?
A computer system stands to lose gobs of important data in the 10 to 20 seconds between the time the power goes out and the generator starts pumping electricity. The solution: battery backup, also called an "uninterruptible power supply" or UPS.

It takes just milliseconds for these gadgets to detect a power outage or a voltage fluctuation (either a surge or a brownout) and step in with their own "clean" supply. A typical home computer won't even notice the interruption. Some UPS models have the ability to shut down a PC automatically after a certain amount of time, in case no one is home during the outage.

There are $50, breadbox-size UPS units that can run a computer and monitor for 10 minutes—long enough for you to save work and shut down. Or you can buy big 5-kw banks that cost $5,000 and will keep a few critical circuits in the house going for several hours or days (if used sparingly).

Aside from occasional testing, a UPS needs no maintenance. Its sealed battery is kept recharged by the home's electrical system. Expect one to last 7 to 10 years with no noticeable decline in output, says Rob Heckenast, of Xantrex Technology Inc., a manufacturer of battery-backup systems.

Because batteries run out of juice fairly quickly, Heckenast says, the best backup systems use a combination of power sources. "For the full-meal deal, get batteries for brief outages and a standby generator for the long blackouts."

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